Opposition parties count their losses

Many opposition parties were wiping the sand out of their eyes on Friday as ballot counting for South Africa’s fourth democratic elections churned up the political landscape.

“I think all the affected parties should have an indaba and ask ourselves, are we still needed?” said Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) chief whip Koos van der Merwe.

“Why did we do so poorly?” he asked, as the Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) electronic “scoreboard” showed the party’s support had dropped from more than two million votes in the first democratic elections in 1994, to just more than 540 000 by Friday morning.

The only “old” opposition party that was faring well was the Democratic Alliance (DA), which increased its support, to the delight of party leader Helen Zille.

“Cope, the little baby, is four months old, but it has shown large teeth. But the rest, they were all cut to pieces. Parties who are going to Parliament will have to ask themselves where they lost the plot,” said Van der Merwe.

Congress of the People (Cope) was formed by a group of African National Congress (ANC) veterans unhappy with the party asking former president Thabo Mbeki to resign last year. It went from being the “party without posters” to overtaking almost all post-democracy opposition parties.

“We need to go back out there and ask, for example, the youth: ‘What do you want’?”

One of Van der Merwe’s immediate theories on the party’s weaker support was that the ANC had “abused Zulu nationalism” and taken a large slice of its traditional support base.

From the “100% Zulu boy” T-shirts that Zuma supporters wore, and calls on the ground to install Zuma as the next Zulu king after Shaka, the party “cut that Zulu slice out and it fitted in perfectly, like a puzzle”.

But political analyst Dr Somadoda Fikeni said although Zuma had worn his traditional attire, and visited Zulu royalty more often, he also evoked other historical leaders such as Hintsa and Sekhukhune, and included Afrikaners and religious leaders on his campaign trail.

Van der Merwe noted the ANC’s “excellent” results—in spite of the negativity of Zuma’s recently abandoned corruption charges and the fallout surrounding the matter.

He also wished that the IFP had had a higher profile during the campaign.

“Not just [IFP leader Mangosuthu] Buthelezi, but the strong young lions around him.”

Patricia de Lille was the first woman to form a political party in the country when she left the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) to form the Independent Democrats (ID).

Her first election in 2004 gave her a final tally of 269 765 and seven seats in Parliament.

However, this time around the number of votes was less than half, and she was vying for sixth spot with the Freedom Front Plus.

“I have survived twice,” laughed De Lille, who first asked Parliament in September 1999 to investigate allegations of impropriety in a multi-billion arms deal that was at the centre of the Zuma allegations.

“What do we do next? I propose consolidating the support of the opposition along parties of similar principles and policies.”

It would not be a coalition or a merger, she hastened to add, lauding the power of multi-party democracy, which she believed had “stabilised” sooner than the 20 years former president Nelson Mandela had predicted.

De Lille believed a defining factor of the 2009 election was that politics “went back to the people”.

After concentrating the ID’s campaign in rural areas, against the advice of strategists who felt she would fare better by focusing on the urban voter, she mused: “Maybe it was to my disadvantage. But it was a complete journey of rediscovering my country.

“People are poor but they have always got a cup of tea for you.”

She was philosophical about the fact that, instead of the arms deal allegations forcing Zuma out of politics, he was now at the forefront of a party leading the polls in the country’s biggest election ever.

“But many of the changes in politics are linked to the arms deal. Cope exists because of the arms deal,” said De Lille, declaring she was looking forward to the next sitting of Parliament.

She believed Cope would join the ID as one of the “consciences” the ANC would listen to in Parliament, saying the party tended to disregard the DA and Helen Zille.

But United Christian Democratic Party (UCDP) chairperson Sipho Mfundisi predicted that support for “new kid on the block” Cope might wane.

With the UCDP’s own support down, he said a newcomer party such as Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement got 14 seats in Parliament after he left the ANC. This fell to nine seats and 355 717 votes in 2004. By mid-morning on Friday, the UDM had 127 928 votes.

“People look forward to a newcomer with hope that there are new prospects,” said Mfundisi, who laughed that on the floor they were being described as one of the “homeland” parties that were battling.

Fikeni said the 2009 elections marked the beginning of the end for smaller parties.

Their opposition voices were being replaced by vocal out-of-Parliament community-based organisations like the Treatment Action Campaign, or those leading service delivery protests, whose supporters cut across party lines.

He added that the ANC itself would have its own internal opposition through, for example its union allies.

“As government, they would be the biggest employer, and at some point them and the unions will clash,” said Fikeni.—Sapa

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